Pondering the iPad

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A resurrection occurred over Easter weekend.

The magazine and newspaper industries rose from the dead—at least according to some of the hype surrounding the launch of the iPad on April 3. On that day, the long-anticipated tablet sold more than 300,000 units, according to iPad maker Apple Inc.

With its color, vertically oriented screen that mimics the size of a single magazine page, the iPad is seen in some circles as an ideal device for reading digital magazines. While digital editions have been available for years, they've been more popular among publishers—which can maintain circulation without paying for paper, printing and postage—than readers. This is especially true for on-the-go readers, for whom reading a digital edition on a horizontally oriented laptop screens has been a less-than-optimal experience.

Even before the iPad went on sale, a number of magazine and newspaper publishers demonstrated their embrace of Apple's device by investing—to widely varying degrees—in technology and formats associated with the iPad. Jason Snell, editorial director of IDG's Macworld, summarized his own iPad plans this way: “We feel it's an exciting, new major media platform, and it can't be ignored.”

Snell said Macworld is developing an iPad app that will be something different than a simple digital replica of its print edition. Giant media brands with deep pockets—such as The New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Time The Wall Street Journal and Wired—have all promoted whiz-bang iPad editions that suggest investments to take advantage of the device's features, including video, animation (like 360-degree views), slide shows and hyperlinks to additional information or advertiser sites.

Sports Illustrated and Wired demonstrated their iPad-ready magazines via online video ahead of the iPad debut. Sports Illustrated highlighted video from its swimsuit issue.

Wired, which produced its version with the help of Adobe Systems, pointed out how a photo of an automobile could be rotated to offer a 360-degree view. (Adobe apparently helped Wired navigate around its Flash software, which is often used for video but is incompatible with iPad and other Apple devices.

(Because Apple steadfastly refuses to support Flash, online videos based on Flash can't be seen on a Safari browser and, as a consequence, on an iPhone, iPod or iPod Touch. Some programmers are using HTML5, the latest draft version of Hypertext Markup Language, to get around this problem and make video visible on Apple devices.)

The Wonderfactory, a New York-based digital agency, and WoodWing Software, a supplier of cross-media publishing solutions, issued a press release discussing how they used tools, such as Adobe InDesign plug-ins, to help create Time's iPad version.

Talk of software and digital agencies, however, makes the average trade publisher worry about digital agency expenses and development costs. Moreover, how will already-overworked editorial staffs create special digital editions for iPad?

“It may change the economics of distribution, but it's not a free pass,” Ziff Davis Enterprise CEO Steve Weitzner said of the iPad.

Existing digital edition companies, including NXTBook, Texterity and Zinio, already offer relatively painless, ready-made platforms for producing content for the iPad and other e-readers.

But each of the digital edition companies is also doing more.

Zinio, which focuses on consumer magazines, has made its newsstand—where users can buy subscriptions or single copies to numerous digital magazines—available for the iPad. In addition, Zinio created, for its own VIV Mag, an iPad version of the digital publication that showcases animation and other cool iPad tricks.

Texterity has a process for rolling out iPad apps for individual magazines. It already delivered an app for Watt Publishing's CabinetMaker FDM and is in the process of creating ones for other publications. The Texterity app makes the digital edition accessible through the Apple App Store. Likewise, NXTBook is working on a procedure (expected this spring) for making digital editions of particular publications available through the App Store.

Bruce Plantz, director of content at Watt, said he's using the iPad as an experiment to see if the device can help expand the magazine's audience beyond its typical professional user.

Martin Hensel, president of Texterity, says that to be visible via a Texterity app on the iPad a publisher needs only to supply a PDF version of the print-ready magazine and provide an RSS feed for immediate access to new content. “That's it,” Hensel said.

NXTBook is at work on a native iPad app, said Spencer Ewald, the company's president. Ewald said the NXTBook digital editions already available on magazine Web sites are viewable through the iPad, not to mention on BlackBerry, Android and Apple iPhone smartphones.

“The iPad is going to add a lot,” Ewald said, “but it's probably only going to be a small portion of a particular publisher's audience.” He added: “Now that the cat is out of the bag, and everybody's seen the device, publishers have to look at their market and ask, ‘What's my strategy for the iPad and the iPhone?' If you go the app route, what is it your business readers want to get from you in the app? Or do they want an e-mailed copy of your magazine once a month or once a week?”

Publishers who are nervous about spending money on developing a special app or a digital edition expressly for the iPad may want to take a wait-and-see approach.

After all, that Web site on which they spend all that money over the past decade? It's still viewable on the iPad—although there may be a few unsightly holes where the all the Flash programming is supposed to provide images. A little HTML5 should fix that.

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